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Author explores connection to the Boston Strangler

Serial killer also known as Al the handyman

From Catherine Mitchell
CNN

Albert DeSalvo
The Boston Strangler poses with his hand over his stomach behind Sebastian Junger and his mother.

(CNN) -- The year was 1963. John F. Kennedy was in the White House, a quarter million people heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C., and a serial killer known as the Boston Strangler was terrorizing the city of Boston.

The Boston Strangler had raped and murdered eight women in and around the city and would go on to kill at least five more. Sebastian Junger, author of "The Perfect Storm," was not yet a year old when the Boston Strangler appeared to strike near his childhood home.

Here is Junger's account of that murder from his new book, "A Death in Belmont," which explores the Belmont murder and the Boston Strangler's reign of terror.

"Bessie Goldberg was lying on her back with her skirt and apron pulled up and her legs exposed. One of her stockings had been wound around her neck, and her eyes were open, and there was a little bit of blood on her lip. The first thought that went through Israel Goldberg's mind was that he'd never seen his wife wearing a scarf before."

Junger's fascination

Junger did not know Bessie Goldberg or her husband, Israel. Nor did he know Roy Smith, an African-American man convicted of Bessie's murder.

But Junger has long been fascinated by this murder, both for its proximity to his home and because, as he would later learn, his family had a rather close connection to the Boston Strangler. And as Junger dug deeper into the circumstances of Bessie Goldberg's murder, he grew to suspect that it may have been the Boston Strangler, and not Roy Smith, who killed Bessie Goldberg.

Smith always maintained his innocence, and Junger has uncovered a number of ambiguities about the case. He questions whether race played a role in Smith's conviction.

But Bessie Goldberg's daughter, Leah, is speaking out against the book. She is certain that Roy Smith murdered her mother for money -- about $15 was missing from the house -- and that he tried to cover up this crime by making it look like "the mysterious Boston Strangler" had been there.

"To cover up the theft, he would kill my mother by strangling her," Leah Goldberg said.

Ellen Junger, Sebastian Junger's mother, was home the day Goldberg was killed. Upon hearing the news of Goldberg's murder, she went outside to where a young handyman named Al was building an addition onto her home. She told him the Boston Strangler had just struck again. She didn't know it then, but the handyman to whom she was speaking was Albert DeSalvo. Two years later, he would confess to being the Boston Strangler.

Strangler terrorized Boston

At the time, the Boston Strangler was seen as a kind of phantom. He struck at random in the light of day without being heard or leaving a clue. It seemed as though any woman could be next.

"They were ghastly murders. Sexual murders," Junger told CNN. "And women were not going out alone. They would only go out in groups and they would do things like put tin cans in the hallways of their apartment buildings so that, you know, an intruder would knock them over and warn them. I mean, it was really a time of terror in Boston."

Bessie Goldberg's murder appeared to be the Boston Strangler's ninth.

"Her killing was so similar, virtually identical to many of the other Boston stranglings, that the press and the police immediately assumed it was the Boston Strangler," Junger said.

Police pinned the Goldberg murder on Roy Smith, an African-American housecleaner who was sent to the Goldberg's house earlier in the day by a temporary work agency. Rookie police officer Mike Giacoppo tracked down Smith the next morning.

"The headlines read, I remember: Our city can rest in peace for a while," Giacoppo told CNN. "Cause we thought we had arrested the Strangler."

But Smith had an airtight alibi for the eight previous murders attributed to the Strangler -- he had been in prison. Nonetheless, Smith was convicted of Bessie Goldberg's murder. He was sent to prison, where he appealed to have his sentence commuted.

Meanwhile, the Boston Strangler continued his murderous ways, raping and killing at least five more women in the Boston area.

A close call

All the while, Albert DeSalvo was working at the Jungers' home. There is one moment in particular that stands out in Ellen Junger's mind as especially disturbing. DeSalvo was in the basement. He yelled up the stairs that something was wrong with the washing machine.

"He had the most terrifying look in his eyes," Ellen Junger said. "And my heart just started pounding. And I thought, 'What's going on with this man?' And he just looked at me as if he could draw me down into that basement just by pulling me down there. And I thought, 'I'm not going down in that basement. I'll be harmed if I go down there.' "

Two-and-a-half years after the Goldberg murder, in November of 1965, the Junger family's handyman, Albert DeSalvo, was arrested for rape. But in a startling admission, he provided details about a far worse series of crimes. In total, he spent 50 hours confessing to 13 murders, two of which were not even suspected crimes of the Strangler.

But DeSalvo never mentioned Bessie Goldberg's name and later said he had nothing to do with her murder. In fact, DeSalvo later recanted all of his confessions and claimed he was not the Boston Strangler at all. We may never know whether he was telling the truth. He was murdered in prison on November 27, 1973 -- almost 10 years to the day after Roy Smith's conviction.

In 1976, Roy Smith's appeal was granted. He was free to go, but died just two days later, with the governor's commutation of his sentence on his nightstand.

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